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SPANK GOLD: Year Of The Monkey 1997: Handing It Over

HK$69? Bargain! T-shirt on sale in Hong Kong, May 1997 As gobsmacking as my 1993 visit to China was, I knew at the time that it'd be a good few years before I'd be able to muster the resources for a return visit. (More on that soon.) But Hong Kong? Of course I'd be back. No special visa requirements, widespread use of English, and one of my favourite film cultures on the whole planet – it was just a question of when I could make the time to go there.

Four years later, 1997 gave the idea of returning to Hong Kong a little more urgency. After 150 years of British rule, the colony was to be handed back to the Chinese in a ceremony on June 30th. The frequent quoting of the late Deng Xiaoping's mantra 'one country, two systems' suggested China was aware of the advantages of giving HK a degree of autonomy from the mainland, but for all we knew they had a battalion of tanks ready to roll into the New Territories on midnight July 1st. With the clock ticking away, I went over to Hong Kong for a five day holiday at the tail end of May 1997. As with my previous visit, most of my documentary evidence of the trip is on video, and I've put up selected clips for you on a YouTube playlist. (Good news: access to digital editing tools meant that my 1997 holiday video only lasted 40 minutes, rather than the tedious 100 minutes of its predecessor. Bad news: access to digital editing tools mean that much of it is cut like a Nine Inch Nails video, especially the opening titles.)

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SPANK GOLD: London Film Festival 1994

Programme design by Enzo Apicella, cack-handed stitching by me. (It's not *my* fault that it was too big for my scanner.)Here's an anniversary that I suspect will go sadly unmarked this year: in 2009 it'll be 15 years since the first ever London Film Festival website went on line. (The original site was deleted long ago, so that link points to a partial archive held on The Wayback Machine.) Back then, the internet was a mysterious entity way beyond the capabilities of mere mortals, so the site was actually made by the IBM PC User Group, primarily as a demonstration of the amazing things you could do with web pages. Okay, so it doesn't look that amazing now, but how many web sites were you coding in 1994? Give them a break.

Anyway, here are a few things to note regarding LFF 1994. The programme suddenly changed to an LP-sized square format, as illustrated. (But in the three years the LFF used this format, the cover artwork always consisted of a rectangular image with wasted space up both sides...) Ticket prices were pegged at the same level as 1993, while the LFF's residency at the Odeon West End was now up to two full weeks out of the 18 day run. This may have contributed to my decision to take a week off work to catch a few extra afternoon matinees - it was the start of the slippery slope towards the festival frenzy you're familiar with nowadays. Here's what I can remember of what I thought about what I saw.

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SPANK GOLD: Edinburgh Festival 1994

Ah, Kai's Power Goo. You know, back in 1994, that was literally the only thing you could run on a PC. Previously on Spank Gold Edinburgh: after four years of going to the Festival each summer, I was starting to find things a bit samey. Inspired in part by a desire to do something reckless for my 30th birthday, I took a year off from Edinburgh in 1993, hoping that when I came back in 1994 my interest would have perked up again.

Did it work? Yes, I believe it did, which is why I've been taking one year off in three or thereabouts ever since. Looking back at my writeup of 1992, I'd started to get into a series of predictable ruts: seeing the same few people over and over again, even going out of my way to watch acts that I could catch in London any other time of the year. There are still a few old familiar names propping up the list below - and in the case of Lee and Herring, the first appearances of some names who've become regulars on my Fringe calendar ever since - but there was enough freshness in my selections to make it a much more worthwhile enterprise.

If anecdotes are the currency of a good Edinburgh, then 1994 was one of the most profitable in living memory. Even the journey there and back had its moments - the rail service was in the middle of some sort of strike action, which meant I ended up travelling midweek by overnight coach. Which conveniently leads me into the first of those anecdotes...

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Red Cliff

Face/Off: Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung in Red CliffI'm happy to go with the critical consensus on this one. After a decade or so during which it's become increasingly difficult to be a John Woo fanboy (disclaimer: I could never quite bring myself to watch Paycheck), the director has returned to his homeland and produced his first great film for ages. Red Cliff is a sweeping Chinese historical epic that provides all the pleasures you used to expect from a Woo film over its two-and-a-half-hour running time. And it's in UK cinemas now (information correct at time of writing).

Well, maybe I won't go completely with the critical consensus. Because as every UK review of the film has noted, it used to be five hours long. In Asian territories, Red Cliff was spread over two separate films released a couple of months apart, like Che was here earlier this year. For various reasons, it was decided that outside of Asia, roughly fifty per cent of the movie had to be removed to make it into a single film for Western audiences.

“What must that five hour version be like?” all the critics have been asking. Well, we do live in an age when it's not that bloody difficult to find out. Red Cliff was released in China ages ago, the second part hitting cinemas during the traditional sweet spot of Chinese New Year. A pair of excellent Hong Kong DVD editions have been out there for almost as long, and they're region free so they can be played anywhere in the world. And yet, there seem to be very few people willing to make the moderate investment of time and money required to compare the Eastern and Western versions of the movie. Well, let's see what we can do about that.

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Edinburgh Festival 2009: Not That It's Any of My Business, But...

Your programmes for 2009. Not mine: yours. In the old days, of course, we'd do this in a pub. Once the programmes for all the Edinburgh festivals were published, Spank's Pals and I would arrange to meet in some London dive or other and pore over them together, occasionally yelling out the name of a show to see if anyone else was interested in coming along. Nowadays, we're all a lot busier and more geographically spread out, so we tend to just come up with wishlists and mail them out to everyone else. And yes, it's true, I'm normally the first one to come up with a list.

This year, as you may be aware, I'm taking one of my regular years off from Edinburgh. And yet the Pals are still asking me what I think is worth seeing. Happily, the programmes for all three festivals - yes, I'm certain it's just three, always has been - are now available online. There are simple PDFs downloadable for the International Festival (9.93MB) and Book Festival (2.77MB): the Fringe, meanwhile, has a more complex arrangement involving a replica of the programme in a Flash reader. (Useful undocumented tip: click on a selected bit of the page to first make it bigger, then smaller again. Don't drag the page around with your mouse, it'll just mess it up.) This reader also has the option to convert sets of selected pages into a PDF. Be warned that if you go for that option and select all pages, the resulting PDF will be 212MB in size, and your computer's brain may well explode when it tries to either download or open it: you may be better off selecting smaller subsets of the 292 pages at a time.

Anyhoo, the list below is the result of one afternoon looking at electronic versions of the programmes online and picking out shows that I think look interesting, bearing in mind that I have no intention of travelling to Edinburgh and seeing any of them. (Links in bold are to official show pages, including online booking where available.) Note that as this list is being compiled primarily for the benefit of the Pals, I'm focussing exclusively on performances during the week before the August Bank Holiday, which is when they'll be in town. Other dates are available.

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Extraordinary Gentlemen

Shitty photo of (left to right) Alan Moore, Christopher Frayling and Kevin O'Neill. It's the best quality my phone was capable of at that distance, sorry. Much better photos can be found in the June 3rd 2009 entry on joelm1-joelmead.blogspot.comFor all the evidence of me being a terminal Alan Moore fanboy (see here, here, here, sort of here and the bottom bit of here), up until last night I'd never actually met the man in person. The closest I got to it was back in 2003, at a curious event hosted by comics historian Paul Gravett for the Comica Festival at the ICA. In it, a group of Moore's closest collaborators - including David 'V For Vendetta' Lloyd and Melinda 'Lost Girls' Gebbie - sat around a table and talked about the writer behind his back. It was fun as far as it went, and we all accepted that Moore had made his decision to generally stay out of the public eye, but his absence cast a large shadow over the event.

Six years on, and Alan Moore doesn't really feel the need to play the recluse any more. He's turned up at a number of Comica events: the most recent was on June 2nd 2009, when he and artist Kevin O'Neill took to the stage at the ICA to discuss their work on The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (Melinda Gebbie was also in attendance again, because in that six year gap she's become Mrs Alan Moore. Awwww.)

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Simian Substitute Site for June 2009: My Monkey Baby

My Monkey Baby You probably think, after five months worth of Spank Gold posts, that you know how it works by now. Well, you're wrong.

Oh, sure, in one sense June will be all about 1994 - my return to the Edinburgh Festival after a year off, and the year that I started ramping up my London Film Festival going to the levels you're used to today. But I want to squeeze in some 1997 in there as well, covering my second visit to Hong Kong. (Why? Well, 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005... I think you can see where this is heading.)

I realise that it'll make the internal timeline of this blog as convoluted as the last season of Lost, but I'm sure you'll cope. And it gets worse: even though you won't be getting full day-by-day coverage of the 2009 Edinburgh Festival, this month I'll try to put together a quick preview to help people (specifically, those of Spank's Pals who are going up there without me) decide what's worth seeing. Which will probably be the equivalent of that bit at the end of season three where Jack's standing outside an airport yelling "WE HAVE TO GO BACK!" Or something.

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